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What causes mold to grow? How does it get inside of a building?

Mold (mildew), mushrooms, and yeast are all types of fungi. Fungi are found both indoors and outdoors.

Mold requires nutrients, water, oxygen and favorable temperatures to grow. Nutrients for mold are present in dead organic material such as wood, paper or fabrics; mold can also derive nutrients from some synthetic products such as paints and adhesives. Mold requires moisture, although some mold species can obtain that moisture from moist air when the relative humidity is above 70 per cent. Many molds thrive at normal indoor temperatures; few if any molds are able to grow below 40 F or above 100 F. Outside this range molds may remain dormant or inactive; they may begin to grow again when the temperature is more favorable.

Mold spores can enter a building either through the air or on people, animals, or other objects. Molds are decomposers or organic matter such as wood, plants, and animals. Where there is decaying organic matter you will find greater concentrations of mold spores.

An area the size of a postage stamp can contain up to 65,000,000 (65 million) spores. This is more than enough to potentially spread to contaminate an entire home and all items or furniture inside the building.

How does mold affect my health?

Exposure to damp and moldy environments may cause a variety of health effects, or none at all. Some people are sensitive to molds (those individuals have a genetic makeup that puts them at risk for developing allergies to mold).

Symptoms vary depending on the person's age, allergies, current health conditions, and body type. The common symptoms are:

  • Nasal and sinus congestion
  • Eye irritation, such as itchy, red, watery eyes
  • Respiratory problems, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing
  • Cough
  • Throat irritation
  • Skin irritation, such as a rash
  • Headache

Immune-compromised people and people with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may get serious infections in their lungs when they are exposed to mold. These people should stay away from areas that are likely to have mold.

See this news report and video newscast for an example of the potentially harmful effects of mold:

How much mold exposure is harmful?

No one knows the answer to this question for several reasons. Individuals are very different with respect to the amount of mold exposure they can tolerate. Children under the age of one year may be more susceptible to the effects of some molds than older individuals. Measuring or estimating “exposure” levels is very difficult. “Exposure” means the amount of mold (microscopic spores and mold fragments) that gets into a person usually by breathing, but also by eating or absorption through the skin. For example, a building may have a lot of mold in the walls but very little of that mold is getting into the air stream. In that case the people working or living in that building would have little mold exposure.

Can mold exposure cause brain damage or death?

Although some experts claim that individuals have brain damage or have died because of exposure to mold and especially mold toxins, there is no good science at this time to support these claims. Consequently it is prudent to minimize one’s exposure to really moldy environments. By “really moldy” we mean where there are large visible areas of mold (more than a few square feet) or the building has a “musty” odor because of hidden mold growth. There are many epidemiological studies showing that people who live in houses with dampness have many more health problems, especially respiratory, than do people who live in dry houses. This association does not “prove” that it is the mold that is responsible for the increase in illness. However, it does support the assertion that it is not wise to live in damp, moldy buildings.

How I do I know if I have a mold problem?

You know you have mold when you smell the "musty" odor or see small black, white, green, or other colored specks on walls, below sinks, behind toilets, on carpets, on ceilings, or any other place. Some mold is hidden growing behind wall coverings or ceiling tiles. Even dry, dead mold can cause health problems, so always take precautions when you suspect mold.

Mold is often found in areas where water has damaged building materials and furniture from flooding or plumbing leaks. Mold can also be found growing along walls where warm moist air condenses on cooler wall surfaces, such as inside cold exterior walls, behind dressers, headboards, and in closets where articles are stored against walls. Mold often grows in rooms with both high water usage and humidity, such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and basements. If you notice mold or know of water damaged areas in your home, it is time to take action.

Here are some general signs to look out for, which can help to ascertain whether or not you have any mold in your home or workplace:

  • Stains, on the ceilings and walls, are a very common sign that indicates the presence of mold. These stains are usually blue, black, or green in color.
  • Brown, orange, or green spots and specks are also a sign of mold infestation, especially around tiles and plumbing grouts.
  • A musty odor, or a lingering scent of urine, which cannot be explained, then it could be due to mold.
  • Having allergies that refuse to go away despite treatment, can be a sign of mold. Toxic Mold contains allergens that are known to cause allergies in people and also various other illnesses.

Does tighter building construction promote mold development?

Tighter building construction does not by itself promote mold growth, but tight construction combined with some poor choices in design, building materials or operations can increase the probability of mold growth. What do we mean? The tighter the building construction the less air exchange there is between the inside air and the outside air. Whatever gets into the inside air stays there longer than it would in a house with loose construction. Moisture that gets into the air from activities such as cooking, bathing and even breathing will remain in a tight house longer than it would in a loose house. That’s why exhaust fans should be installed in bathrooms and kitchens and vented to the outside. Clothes dryers should also be vented to the outside.

Do new building materials (e.g. drywall or paper faced gypsum board) promote mold growth?

Mold needs water, a nutrient source, oxygen and favorable temperature to grow. Many species of mold love paper faced gypsum board. Why? Making paper involves the mechanical and chemical processing of wood. Paper is largely pre-digested so it is easy for mold to get nutrients from the paper. But unless there is enough moisture present mold can’t grow on the paper. If paper faced gypsum board is kept dry, it can be used and still not have mold. This material is kept dry by controlling the interior relative humidity, keeping rain from entering roofs and walls, and NOT using paper faced gypsum in areas that are likely to get wet. This means no paper faced gypsum board in shower and tub areas. Cement board, mortar or non-paper faced gypsum can safely be used in these damp areas because these products do not contain nutrients to support mold growth.

What factors increase the likelihood of mold growth in my property?

Location - some regions have a greater number of mold spores found in the air. Factors that affect this are:

  • Humidity
  • Amount of precipitation
  • Temperature
  • Windiness
  • Number and type of plants and trees in the area

Time of Year - at different times of the year, there are climate and social factors that can increase the likelihood of mold growth. These factors can originate inside or outside of a property:

  • Inside: During fall and winter, when it is colder, people tend to seal up their house and stay indoors, which traps moisture and humidity (humidity can be caused be more persons residing indoors and not allowing a property to “air-out”). This with the warmer temperatures brought on by furnaces, creates a more ideal environment for mold growth. Leaks from roofs, windows, walls, ceilings, or plumbing can dramatically increase the likelihood of mold growth if the moisture is allowed to sit for longer periods of time.
  • Outside: During different time of the year there can be more or less mold in the air. In fall and winter when leaves fall to the ground, some plants die, and extra rainfall produces moisture, the decaying plant matter often releases a greater amount of mold into the air.

Household Plants - Certain plants attract the growth of mold, as the mold will feed off the plant matter or wetted soil. Dead or dying plants are more ideal for mold growth as mold plays a key role in the decomposition of organic matter. In addition, the presence of plants requiring wetted soil and water for their survival will increase the relative humidity indoors as much of this water evaporates into the air.

Plants around Property and Neighborhood – For similar reasons as stated above, a greater number of trees and plants will increase the likelihood of mold spores being present in the air. Some molds grow and feed off of living plants while many survive off of dead organic matter. These mold growths can release spores or mycotoxins into the air.

People – The more people there are living inside of a property, using the plumbing systems, sweating, breathing and coming or going increases the likelihood of mold growth and that there will be an increased number of mold spores in the air inside of a property. Use of plumbing, sweating, and breathing increases the relative humidity. Mold grows where this is moisture so this affects that likelihood. The process of coming or going from a property by its occupants increases the likelihood of additional spores being present in the air and mold growth as those occupants often bring back spores with them that become attached to their skin, hair, or clothing.

Indoor Pets – Pets, like humans, sweat and breath. These actions increase the relative humidity inside of a property, which increases the chances of mold growth. In addition, pets that are allowed outside can pickup organic matter and mold spores from the random terrains they travel through and bring them inside of a property.

Can I clean up mold myself?

Toxic Mold remediation requires great caution. Cleaning mold causes airborne levels of spores to increase as high as 10,000 times the normal background level. Persons exposed to such levels must wear appropriate protective clothing and a respirator. Improper cleaning can result in spreading the spores to areas that were previously unaffected. Professional remediation is usually required. Many times, proper remediation requires the removal of the affected materials. In turn, this requires proper disposal of the affected materials so as not to pose a hazard to others or materials.

What is the insurance industry's response to mold issues?

The costs associated with remedying toxic mold exposure can be great. Costs range from testing, temporary living expenses, and remediation to total replacement, relocation, medical expenses and emotional anguish. The insurance industry is taking the issue of toxic mold claims very seriously. Nationwide, the industry is seeking to exclude or cap damages due to toxic mold infestation. Most homeowners' policies now contain exclusions for losses caused by mold. However, depending upon the particular circumstances, there may be insurance coverage for losses associated with mold. Commercial policies involve similar coverage issues. You may need to discuss your particular circumstances with a qualified attorney to determine whether coverage exists.

What can I do to control moisture in my building?

Bathroom vents can remove excess moisture from showers and baths. Often people do not use the bathroom fan because it is noisy, or they don't want to let it run while they are gone from the house. We recommend using it! If not, leave the door open when you are done. Closing the door traps moisture in you bathroom which can cause a lot of problems. One great solution is to install a timer switch to control the fan after you exit the bathroom.

Kitchen vents, if vented to the outside, can remove excess moisture from cooking. Range hood fans that vent back into the room can remove smoke and odor by passing the exhaust through a filter, but they do not remove moisture from steam. If your house or condo is small, and you have a recirculating vent (one that blows back into the kitchen), be sure to leave a window open.

Clothes dryers that are not vented properly can produce large amounts of moisture in a house or garage. We recommend that you do not use a lint trap. These are considered a fire hazard, and they allow lots of warm, moist air into you house or garage. Even if your dryer vents to the outside, periodically check the duct for obstructions or built-up lint. This is a fire hazard, and can lead to blockage which will force the dryer to vent into the house.

Ventilation of your garage, crawlspace and attic are a must. Do not block the vents in your garage. There are several reasons for this. In many houses the furnace, water heater, and washer and dryer are located in the garage. These all create heat in addition to parking a car in the garage. If moisture is present you can create a perfect environment for mold. Be sure you have enough ventilation for your crawlspace and attic. The general rule is that you should have one square foot of ventilation of every 150 square feet of crawlspace or attic space. If you have had a room addition added to your house, be sure proper ventilation was installed.

Another big help in avoiding moisture problems is drainage, both around and under the house. This includes rain gutters and proper grading which direct water away from the structure. Good drainage will get rid of surface water and high ground water before they become a moisture problem. If you house has a raised foundation, consider installing a vapor barrier on top of the dirt.

Many homeowners will experience high humidity conditions in a new home the first year it is occupied. One reason for this is the amount of water that is present in the paint, plaster, concrete and other building materials. This moisture must be evaporated before the house thoroughly dries out. This problem usually corrects itself after the first year. If it does not and moisture problems persist, look for other causes of moisture problems and then correct them.

What is the difference between remediation/removal and restoration?

Remediation refers to the removal of mold, water damage, or other contaminants from a building in a controlled fashion. It is also referred to as abatement or removal.

Restoration is the re-construction or rebuilding of the damaged or contaminated areas that were removed during remediation. The restoration would put the areas in question back to an original quality state.

Some mold removal projects only include the remediation while others include both the removal and restoration.

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